9 Health Problems That Affect Senior Pets

Having had dogs my whole life, it seems to me pets go from being babies to being senior citizens almost overnight.

As pet owners, we understand that the quality of our pets’ years is more important than the quantity. So how can we be certain that their senior years are golden and not rusty? Regular veterinary checkups and early detection.

There are some tell tale signs of aging that can help you spot a problem… hopefully early enough to treat it and slow its progression.

Both cats and dogs show similar signs of aging and can suffer from the same health problems when they’re senior citizens.

Old age for cats and small dogs is about 7 years old. Large breed dogs have shorter life expectancies and are seniors when they are 5 or 6.

If your pet is approaching its golden years, here are 9 problems you want to know about because they can impact the quality of your pet’s life in old age.

1) Vision problems – A pet can have vision problems at any age, but just as in humans eyesight can get worse as your pet grows old.

An accident, cancer, or glaucoma can all result in vision loss. But there are other seemingly unrelated health problems that can affect vision too. For instance, elevated blood pressure, hyperthyroidism and kidney disease.

So if you notice a sudden loss of vision, see your vet immediately.

2) Kidney disease – This is one of the leading causes of illness in senior cats but dogs can suffer from it too. You may see an increase in drinking and urination. And it can affect appetite and cause weight loss.

The good news is early detection and treatment can slow the progression.

If you notice a sudden lack of urination, this can mean trouble too—particularly in cats. They are prone to urinary crystal/stones. These stones can cause an obstruction which requires immediate medical attention.

Read my post, Urinary Crystals and Stones… What are They?, to learn more about this dangerous condition.

3) Dental disease – In dogs, bad breath is a sign that something is brewing in your dog’s mouth. Bleeding gums are a sign of dental disease as well.

If you’ve been practicing good oral hygiene throughout your pet’s life, you’ve saved yourself a lot of headaches. But it’s not too late to take care of your pet’s pearly whites if you haven’t already.

As cats age, they can suffer from feline tooth resorption. You’ll remember from my recent post, 10 Signs Your Cat is Suffering From Feline Tooth Resorption, this is a painful problem. So watch out for drooling, difficulty chewing, or reluctance to eat.

If you’re seeing signs of a tooth problem, see the vet.

4) Lumps, bumps and rashes – Cancer is as common in dogs as in humans and it can happen at any age. It’s less common in cats.

But if you feel bumps or lumps on your dog or cat, have them checked out by the vet. They may be nothing more than harmless fatty tumors. All my labs have had those. But they’ve had cancer too.

So be sure the doc biopsies the lump to rule out a malignancy.

Rashes, lesions, hotspots, and hair loss can all crop up in old age but are usually treatable. It’s important to make sure these things aren’t a sign of something more serious. Because early treatment is critical to quality of life.

5) Weight changes – A sudden unexplained drop in weight could mean diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, or hyperthyroidism.

The first inkling I had that my greyhound was sick was weight loss. Only I didn’t know it.  I thought his quick metabolism was to blame for his declining weight. No matter how much we fed him, he kept getting thinner. Sadly, I was wrong, and he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

The flip side can mean trouble too. A pet that is overweight is prone to more problems. Just like in humans, obesity increases the risk of many illnesses including cancer, diabetes, heart problems and joint disease.

Your pet may need a senior diet, like Husse’s Senior for dogs or Exclusive Limited for cats. Or a therapeutic diet prescribed by your vet.

And all pets need exercise to stay healthy.

6) Joint disease – If your pet is overweight, joint disease may become a problem when they’re a senior.

Keep your pet at a healthy weight with proper nutrition and exercise, and you’ll minimize these problems and the pain associated with them.

Arthritis can be a problem for older pets whether they’re overweight or not. Just like for older people. If your pet is reluctant to jump, run or take part in their normal activities, their joints may hurt them.

Some dogs are prone to hip dysplasia, a very painful and debilitating condition you can read about in my post, 9 Signs Your Dog May Suffer From This Debilitating Condition.

Although hip dysplasia isn’t a problem for cats, arthritis is. If your cat isn’t using the litter box, they’re not grooming themselves, they’re not eating… these can be signs they’re in pain.

Your vet may suggest an orthopedic bed or ramps to improve the quality of life of a pet with joint pain. And ask about adding antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids to your pets diet. These are beneficial in treating inflammation.

7) Hearing loss – Is your pet slow to respond to commands they know? Do they ignore you—more so than usual—when you call their name? They may be losing their hearing.

Dogs and cats can learn to live with a hearing deficit. It just may take some

adjustments on your part. Talk to your vet to find out how you can help your pet live with a hearing loss.

8) Constipation – It’s common in dogs that are experiencing painful pooping due to hip dysplasia or anal gland disease. And it’s common in cats too.

Don’t let constipation linger. It can cause an obstruction and that can be serious.

If your pet is constipated, be sure they drink a lot of water. Your vet may also prescribe a high-fiber diet until the problem’s under control.

9) Cognitive dysfunction – Unfortunately our pets can become senile, just like we can. It’s called cognitive dysfunction and behavior that’s out of the norm may tell you your pet’s suffering from it.

You may find they’re disturbed by loud sounds, become aggressive, bark or meow more, are confused or disoriented, have accidents, aren’t interested in playing, are grouchy, or they don’t respond to voice commands.

Have your vet check them out if you suspect they’re getting senile. There isn’t a whole lot that can be done but some lifestyle changes may help.

As your pet ages, it’s important they see the vet more often. A check up twice a year is a good idea. And it’s up to you to spot subtle changes. Sometimes these are the only signs you’ll get that there’s a problem.

And early detection is critical in treating and slowing the progression of disease. Not to mention minimizing your pet’s pain.

Is your senior dog showing signs of aging? Tell us how in the comment section at the top of the page.




11 Signs Your Pet Is in Pain

The only thing worse than seeing our fur babies suffering in pain is knowing they were suffering, and we didn’t realize it.

Instinctually, dogs and cats will try to hide their pain in order not to appear weak to a predator. But there are subtle signs you may notice if they’re suffering.

1) Excessive grooming

When a dog or cat is in pain, they will often groom the area that’s causing them pain to clean and care for the wound. Even if there is no wound but the pain is internal, they may lick the spot.

2) Heavy panting

When your dog pants, you probably think nothing of it. But excessive panting warrants attention. It’s a sign of stress and that stress can be caused by pain.

One of my labs panted like crazy towards the end. I live in a warm place, so I assumed she was just cooling herself. But when I look back, I realize she was panting all the time… not just after activity.

I took too long to realize the panting was a sign of her pain.

Besides panting, you may also find that their breathing is faster or shallower. This can be a sign it hurts to breathe but it can also be a sign of general pain.

Your pet may be subtler. If they lick their lips when you touch a part of their body, they may be telling you it hurts.

3) Inappetence

Lack of appetite, particularly if your pet is a good eater, should be a red flag. Their pain may make it difficult to stand or to lean over the bowl. But when you’re in pain, you sometimes just don’t feel like eating.

Inappetence can be a sign of many ailments, some serious. So this definitely warrants a trip to the vet.

4) Shyness and aggression

An animal in pain can act out. They may try to bite or scratch if you try to touch them. If your always-sweet dog growls or snaps, or your mellow cat tries to bite or scratch you, they’re trying to tell you something. They’re going into protection mode so you don’t hurt them.

Have your vet evaluate your pet so you don’t get hurt.

If your friendly pet is suddenly hiding or doesn’t greet you at the door like usual, check for pain. They may avoid you so you don’t hurt them.

Some pets will seek constant affection when they’re suffering. But if the pet that typically likes to be held won’t let you pick them up or cries when you do, this is a warning sign.

Any noticeable change in attention seeking should cause you to question if something’s up.

5) General behavior changes

Is your pet depressed, lethargic, or mentally dull? Any extreme changes in behavior should cause the light bulb to go on.

If your pet suddenly won’t walk steps, jump, climb, or chase a ball something’s wrong. Everyone knows what it’s like to be in pain. You don’t want to do anything that’ll increase the pain.

You may also notice limping or stiffness when they stand.

A general disinterest in the things your pet used to love is a signal that something’s amiss.

6) Unexplained accidents

When a pet is in extreme pain, they may have accidents in the house. When the pain is too much to get up, a dog may not make it outside to do their business and a cat may not get to the litter box.

And if squatting is painful, they may just do their business in their bed.

7) Excessive vocalizations

If your dog is vocal, they may become less vocal. If they’re typically quiet, they may start whining, whimpering, yelping, growling, snarling, or howling. Do you find they’re vocalizing more than usual?  Check it out with your vet.

Cats may purr more. Purring is not always a sign of pleasure, so take note if your cat is purring more than is typical for them.

8) Changes in sleep

Sleep is important for healing. As a result, your pet may sleep more than usual. Sometimes though, they’re sleeping more because it hurts to move.

If your pet is pacing and not sleeping, they may be too uncomfortable to stay in one place and rest.

9) Postural changes

Your pet that normally curls up in a ball to sleep may lay flat on their side when they’re in pain.

They’re back may be arched or sunken, while some may get down in a prayer position with their rear-end up in the air and their abdomen stretched.

Your pet may take a rigid stance or their usually perky tail may be tucked.

10) Eye changes

This one may not be immediately obvious to you. Pain can cause your pet’s eyes to become dilated. Conversely, animals with eye pain often squint and their pupils may become smaller.

11) Restlessness

If you’ve ever been in severe pain, you know you can feel agitated and restless. It’s difficult to sit or lie down. The same goes for your pet.

If you see they’re pacing— or sit or lie down and then immediately get up— they’re uncomfortable.

Sometimes your pet will sit or lie in an unusual position to minimize their pain.

Anything out of the ordinary should alert you to a problem. If you sense something’s up, reach out to your vet at once.

The sooner you identify your pet’s pain, the sooner you can treat it. But never, ever give your pet a human pain med without talking to your vet first.

As our pets age, things will hurt. They’ll get sick.  And our young pets will have those inevitable accidents and illnesses.  But minimizing their pain and keeping them happy is our job as a pet parent.

Knowing what to look for will help you spot a problem quickly so you can manage your pet’s pain and keep them comfortable.

Has your pet ever been in severe pain? How did you know? Tell us in the comment section at the top of the page.